Monday, December 8, 2008

What Child Is This?

Little Girl turns two today. Though that’s hardly an occasion for a rousing chorus of “Cats In The Cradle,” it is a beginning of an end of sorts. She has boundless energy and opinions of her own. She can do jigsaw puzzles and recognizes any letter or number that’s been featured in a They Might Be Giants video. Even at her tantrumy worst, she’s brilliant. She is our youngest child; my last baby. And soon there won’t be any babies in this house at all.

That started to dawn on me about a month ago when I noticed my favorite crunchy-granola baby store had opened a new shop near our house. I used to drive across town to their old store for slings and cute non-matronly nursing bras. So I happily breezed right in, only to realize…I no longer need slings or nursing bras. Even the baby clothes were too small for my girl.

That same week, I was running an errand up in suburbia and reflexively stopped by Babies R Us while I was in the neighborhood. And there it was. The first time in five years that I actually didn’t need anything at Babies R Us. But I walked up and down the aisles anyway, for old time’s sake, smiling at the bouncy chairs and cribs, watching all the expectant moms and couples with their hopeful faces. (And, even more endearing, the folks with confused “WTF-even-is-this-stuff-and-why-do-we-need-it?!” faces. Ah, memories.)

Of course, I’m happy that the buying-baby-stuff phase is coming to an end. But for me, there was more to this shopping than mere consumerism. There was even more to it than nesting.

My path to motherhood was one big absurd obstacle course. Nearly two years of trying. Early miscarriages, one after the other, dragged our marriage and my sanity through the trenches. Month after month of inconsolable sadness, bouts of wildly looking around for an exit, feeling saturated with pain and disappointment that never seemed to get familiar or easier no matter how many times we’d been through it before.

And then, just like that, I got pregnant and stayed pregnant. Months passed before I truly believed a real baby would actually show up. Not knowing how long the pregnancy would last, I savored every wave of nausea, every spiral of exhaustion. I spent my sleepless nights trying to visualize the cloudy little being inside me that might or might not grow into my child. This was no pink-cloud pregnancy. It was some dark, primordial fog, always uncertain.

But during this time, I was also checking out pregnancy magazines and taking my first tentative steps into the baby-gear stores. Talk about yin and yang. It was as if, right in the middle of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Muppets pop out for a musical number. It was “We Three Kings” played back-to-back with “Feliz Navidad.”

But as the months went by and my pregnancy stayed healthy, it became clear that the baby really would be born. I really would be a mother. I was shopping for my baby just like any other expectant mom, and it felt like a small miracle. That first time I chose a single pair of baby pajamas and actually carried it to the front of the store, paid for it, and took it home…it felt downright revolutionary to me. Yes. I get to have a baby too. I get to participate in this crazy retail ritual too.

My pregnancy with Little Girl was a little easier, but still uncertain. I’d had two more miscarriages after my son was born. I figured she was okay in there, but I was still anxious for her safe arrival. I’d planned and prepared diligently for a VBAC and knew that the key to a successful one was “Don’t Go to the Hospital Too Early.” But when my water broke and contractions never started, it was all I could do not to strap on the fetal monitor myself. All the prenatal yoga in the world couldn’t calm me. I needed to know she was still safe in there. I needed to hear the beeps and know she was breathing.

Birth stories are a funny thing. So much is happening at once. There are moments that are glorious, degrading, painful, and strong, all within seconds of each other. I remember dozens of details about both of my births, but they fall together differently each time I tell the stories. Like a kaleidoscope. Little Girl’s birth looks something like this:

I resist the planned C-section and get my labor started naturally, walking around with Mr. Black past all the neighbors’ Christmas lights as the sun sets and people are arriving home from work. In the hospital, I wear my hair in little pigtails, a black tank top instead of a hospital gown, and dark nail polish on my toes. There are hours of tiger-woman natural labor and hours of dreamboat-epidural labor. Hours of pushing. A flurry of busy scrub-suited arms and a foggy explanation of why a C-section will be necessary after all. There is a freaked-out husband, a gentle doula, and a friendly-but-jaded nurse.

There is me on my back, the jolt of OR doors opening. Bright lights, busy voices. A wet, red baby with a thin film of fuzz for hair. They hold her up for me to see. Her arms and legs flail. Her eyes are squeezed shut. They hand her to Mr. Black and I’m shaking and shaking. Teeth chattering uncontrollably. He brings her over to see me. I try to kiss her and red liquid pours out of her mouth. Suction, suction. Her eyes are still shut.

The doula whispers to me that the doctor is doing one of the most careful, gentle stitching jobs she’s ever seen. With The Boy, they just stapled me shut, wham bam. So, I take a moment to appreciate that. But the baby’s hungry, chomping on her daddy’s fingers. Please, can I breastfeed her now? No. Out of the question. Shiver. Shake.

Back in the room, I still can’t stop shaking. They still haven’t given me the baby. I had a high fever during labor, which means antibiotics for her. The nurse skillfully works a needle into that tiny infant hand and tells me we’re lucky; the hospital just recently changed its policy about this. Otherwise they’d have taken her to NICU.

As it is, her blood sugar is low. They’re recommending formula. Please can I try to breastfeed her first? But my arms still shake and shake. So the doula brings the baby into bed with me and gets her latched on. She and Mr. Black take turns holding her at my breasts while my girl feeds and feeds like a neonatal Homer Simpson. Test her blood sugar again. The nurse is amazed. She’s fine! No need for formula after all.

And then. They move us into a recovery room. Mr. Black goes home to be with our son. It’s just you and me, baby. It feels like we’ve been washed ashore on some island. Battered. But safe. I bring her into bed with me and sing to her as best I can. The only song I can remember is the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl.” My voice is so weak.

As the days go by, we get stronger. I heal. She thrives. It is Christmastime and family members are coming to visit and help out. Parents from The Boy’s preschool bring casserole after casserole. During the day, Mr. Black and my dad take The Boy on outings, and I sit in the rocking chair with my sweet new baby, listening to her sleep, watching movies, eating the fancy treats my dad brought me from Pike Place Market. Our days are merry and bright.

There’s a wonderful dreaminess with newborns. It’s the light side that goes along with the dark sleep deprivation, constant stream of bodily fluids, and infant-wails that viscerally break your heart as well as your eardrums. But that dreamy side... Those quiet moments when you feel as connected to that baby as you did when she was growing in your body. Except now you can see her, hold her, hear her breathing and know she’s safe. You can remember how much you wanted her, how hard you fought for her, the pain and suffering you went through to bring her here. You can slip your finger into her tiny uncurled hand and let her clench it.

And now. It’s been two years and my feet are back on the ground. Running. Chasing. Getting them dressed and fed and shuttled from here to there. Playing and laughing. Outings and adventures. Letting them watch too much TV. Saying things I thought I’d never say. Lacking patience. Watching them take their first steps toward independent social lives. For The Boy, that means playing Bionicles/Vampires/Pirates with his preschool pack. For Little Girl, that means smacking other kids in the face before I can swoop in to stop her. Here comes Two.

I’m going to miss the baby years so much. But I look at these kids of mine, these individuals; these smart, funny, wild, exhausting little bed-jumping monkeys. The baby years are over. But we’re only just getting started. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next for them.

Happy Birthday, Little Girl.

“And now you’re mine.
Rest with your dream in my dream.”
- Pablo Neruda

“My house if full of sevens!
Lots and lots of sevens!”
- They Might Be Giants


kommishonerjenny said...

god, this is gorgeous. you are an amazing writer and an amazing mom.

thanks for giving me some well-needed perspective as i start my bar studying for the morning.

Jen Blume said...

OK, the tears are streaming down my face. Beatiful! We are coming up on that point - my youngest is 20 mos. Hope you are well Toby! Jen

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